In today’s world, the urgent need to decarbonise and the recent remilitarisation efforts are driving up the demand for raw materials. This is where the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) comes into play, with its fundamental purpose to reduce European states’ external dependence on raw materials and decrease wasteful consumption. Within the European Parliament, various committees will vote on the international and environmental aspects of CRMA next week. The outcome of the vote will have significant implications for how the EU will approach securing critical raw materials within Europe and beyond in the coming decade.
Unsustainable production and consumption patterns contribute to various social and environmental problems we face today – from human rights violations in vulnerable communities to the looming climate crisis. Indeed, overconsumption of resources in unequal societies lies at the heart of most challenges related to the extractive industries in the contemporary world. The scope of the problems include, but are not limited to, land degradation and deforestation, destruction of ecosystems, disruptions in the safe existence of indigenous communities, and growing levels of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere that contribute to the ongoing climate crisis.
The challenges can be most easily mitigated when there is no longer a need for such materials in the first place. In addition, the highest environmental and social standards should be in place where extraction is difficult or impossible to avoid since we still require more materials to facilitate such a major transition. Such measures should ensure that the ongoing projects pose little to no risk to the surrounding environment, inform local and Indigenous Peoples and include them in the decision-making process.
The Position Paper, created by collaborating with various civil society organisations, highlights essential aspects of the CRMA. Below are some of the key takeaways.
Reducing Raw Material Consumption
The EU should actively work towards decreasing raw material consumption by at least 10% by 2030. This can be achieved by phasing out single-use products containing critical raw materials, implementing a material passport system to monitor the use of various materials in the production cycle, and encouraging the use of alternative materials where possible.
Comprehensive Environmental and Social Assessments
Relying solely on certification schemes is insufficient to ensure environmental and social responsibility. This way, the CRMA should include a broader assessment framework that also considers respect for human rights and environmental performance in relevant industries. This can be achieved through multi-stakeholder governance, adherence to comprehensive standards, accessible grievance mechanisms, and implementation of public audit reports.
Ensuring a Globally Just Transition
The CRMA’s focus on the EU supply security through partnerships must prioritise environmental protection, human rights, and the well-being of communities in third countries to enhance the importance of the global justice approach. These efforts imply comprehensive action that involves aligning partnerships with international agreements, implementing robust monitoring mechanisms, supporting domestic development of supply chains, involving civil society and Indigenous Peoples in the decision-making, ensuring transparency, and avoiding undermining commitments through other regulations or trade agreements.
Balancing Permits and Safeguards
While expediting permitting procedures is essential, it should not compromise environmental and social safeguards or public participation. We must strike a balance by incorporating elements like Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) and Indigenous rights. Adequate resources should be allocated to licensing authorities, with high transparency maintained throughout the process. At the same time, companies with a record of poor corporate conduct should be banned from becoming project promoters to ensure the integrity of public funds. In addition to those, deep-sea mining should be prohibited due to its potentially disastrous negative impacts.
Ensuring a long-term circular economy approach
To achieve the goals of the European Green Deal and ensure the EU’s strategic autonomy, a robust circular economy approach should be prioritised. This means implementing a robust recycling strategy, setting higher recycling capacity targets, improving the collection and separation of materials, and promoting the use of recycled content in products.
Urgent Votes to Shape a Sustainable and Equitable Raw Materials Act
The upcoming EU Parliament Committees’ vote on the Critical Raw Materials Act is crucial to secure a Critical Raw Materials Act that does not force its way through environmental legislation under the motto of ‘overriding public interest’. Instead, the CRMA should become a regulation that adds to the existing environmental and social frameworks to ensure that no one is left behind, that risks are minimised, and that no projects are initiated where they pose too much risk. By reducing our dependence on primary raw materials, prioritising global justice, and embracing an environmentally friendly approach, we can pave the way for a more equitable and environmentally-just way of acquiring and managing raw materials in Europe. As discussed in this article, these goals can be achieved by ensuring the maintenance of environmental protection frameworks, conducting comprehensive assessments, and balancing permits and safeguards.
The decisions made in the European Parliament will have far-reaching impacts on states within the EU and globally. It is essential for us, as engaged citizens, to understand the significance of the CRMA and advocate for a future that prioritises the environment, human rights, and well-being of communities. If they are left behind, acquiring raw materials and their usage in the future could become drivers of further inequality and environmental destruction rather than pathways to a greener and healthier future.
Source: Meta EEB